The Measure of A Man – a memoir is a book written by Sir Sidney Poitier. It covers his childhood memory of growing up, family background, and the excellent acting career up to 2000.
Anyone familiar with his distinctive resonant voice and perfect enunciation will easily recognise it in the narrative, and consequently find this book a pleasure to read.
This is unarguably the best autobiography of the century. I found it to be very inspirational and almost every paragraph in this book reads as a Sidney Poitier quote. I was not able to stop reading it until I had reached the very last page.
This book is more than just another memoir of a celebrity. Sidney has purposefully written it to focus on his seventy years of life experience for the reader to benefit from.
In this book, he explores the different elements of his character and his value system to take his own measure as a human being, a husband, and a father.
He begins this exploration looking back at the choices he made in the twists and turns of his life, to determine how he measured up to his own expectations and standards that he himself had set. (p. xii)
This book clearly demonstrates that the power and influence of his acting roles were indicative of his character; Sidney believes that his work must always convey his personal values. With all the films made in Hollywood he did not have to look far to find those that illustrated his values. As a result, these films are today not just a common frame of historical reference but also a part of the collective consciousness of the people who have seen them.
I remember seeing In the Heat of the Night in the 90s. The fine acting and the very subtle underlying tone of prejudice and racism portrayed was captivating. A person of colour would instantly relate to the character Virgil and identify the situations he encountered. Being intelligent, passing all the exams, yet considered inferior because of colour, is a unique experience, still commonly found in Europe and UK.
Whilst at college I was disappointed to find that my so-called educator was a prejudiced man who tried to hammer home his long-established prejudiced views. Declaring me unworthy of human consideration and then expecting me to embrace that very same notion of unworthiness with an underlying threat of my career being destroyed if I did not comply. As one can imagine, it had a huge impact on my hopes, dreams, ambition...
This type of person accepts you as a free being. They consider themselves as educated for being able to tolerate you, yet they do not fully acknowledge you as a human being.
Sidney’s film and his excellent acting captured what many had experienced in real life.
Gene Roddenberry, the writer of Star Trek, had an excellent episode of the same title as this book. This episode explored the importance of liberty and freedom.
Its genius highlighted how easily man can fall short in his measurement by grading people based on their obvious superficial differences. It highlights how easy it can then become to treat people as not being worthy of human consideration. This then redefines the boundaries of liberty and freedom; expanding them for some, whilst savagely curtailing them for others leading to slavery. The concept of the storyline reminded me very much of Abraham Lincoln and The Emancipation Proclamation.
In this book, Sidney also explores where his name came from. Poitier is obviously French, and he speculates that his ancestors originated in Haiti, which was a French colony that took part in the barbaric practice of slavery (p. 22). He suggests that the family may have moved to the Bahamas via escape routes.
In this book, he also writes about his filming experiences making In the Heat of the Night (p. 142), with my favourite actor, the legendary Rod Steiger. He played the character Chief Gillespie, a lowly educated prejudiced man, but intelligent enough to recognise that Virgil's abilities exceeded his. He recognised Virgil’s talents and he needed him to solve the case, but he also wanted him to work under his authority.
The film then shows a black police officer’s deconstruction of the white justice system of Sparta, and explores the prejudices of both Gillespie and Virgil in a complex antagonistic dynamic, worthy of a PhD thesis. In the end, they become friends and gain a mutual respect for each other.
In this part of the book, Sidney mentions Lloyd Richards, and Paul Mann who taught him technique. It occurred to me that he was very lucky to find people who were helpful to him when he was starting out in his career, because finding the wrong kind of people would have had disastrous consequences. He was able to use those same skills in his subsequent films, that later defined him as an iconic actor and a person of great historical significance.
In reading this book, I realised that Sidney Poitier is very much like me. He has knowledge of science, religion, art, philosophy, and human psychology. He knows about space, alternate universe, and about Gaia, the planetary ecosystem (p. 202).
I thought I was the only nerd who knew about such things. :-)
On the acknowledgements page Sidney Poitier mentions Diane Gedymin, Liz Perle, William Patrick, Susan Garrison, and Charley Blackwell, for their kind help in making this book become a reality.
This is a fantastic book worth reading. If there was only one autobiography you could read, then it should be this one. I ended up reminiscing about his films whilst reading it, which is a great bonus!
This review is more about how I related to it, and what it meant to me, because there is a lot in this book that many readers will be able to identify with.
Author: Sidney Poitier
In 1963 Sidney Poitier became the first black African American person to win an Academy Award for Best acting in the film Lilies of the Field.
In 1974, he received a Knighthood, with the highest-level recognition, Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE).
In 2001, he received an Honorary Academy Award for his overall contribution to American cinema.
From 1998 to 2003, he served as a Member of the Board of Directors in the Walt Disney Company.
In 1997, he became Ambassador of Bahamas to Japan, and UNESCO.
|Title||The Measure of A Man|
|Publisher||Simon and Schuster|
|ISBN Number||0 7432 0868 4|
|Copyright Holder||Sidney Poitier 2000|
|Print Edition||3 5 7 9 1 0 8 6 4 2|
|Last Page Number||255|
|Printed by||Butler & Tanner Ltd|
|Availability||Amazon and all good online bookstores|